I hope this biblical explanation doesn’t bore you because this is really important stuff. We tend to think of grace as a ‘better luck next time” pat on the back. You miss a game winning shot in basketball and your coach tells you, hey, you’ll score next game. Don’t give up. Keep trying.
This idea of grace makes God out to be a senile grandfather in the corner of the room. Whatever you do, whatever sins you commit, it’s okay. God hardly notices because he is going blind and he has Alzheimer’s. You sin, but hey, don’t worry, I see no evil, I hear no evil. You’re okay. You’ve got grace.
Many grandparents don’t discipline their grandchildren. That’s why our kids like being with their grandparents. Because you try to discipline your kids because you want to teach them self-control or delayed gratification or you are working on their character or their bad attitude and all that goes out the window when they are with their grandparents. Because the job of grandparents is not to teach those things, but to spoil their grandchildren. They already did all that disciplining for their kids and now they are too tired.
So instead, they bring their grandchildren toys, they buy them whatever they want, do you want a chocolate milkshake with your Mcdonald’s happy meal? That’s grandparents. They accept you as you are.
We picture Jesus like that. He is a guy who is always smiling and he wears Birkenstocks. He’d be the kind of guy you’d like to hang out with at the Huntington Library or Zankou Chicken because he tells great stories and he accepts you as you are.
He’s like our best friend. You confess your sin to your friend and you expect your friend to say, hey, that’s okay. I do the exact same thing. And you hear that and you are comforted.
Is God like a senile grandparent who spoils us or our best friend who accepts us as we are?
When you spell it out like that, we know that these are incomplete portraits of God.
I encourage you to read the description of the unveiled Christ as he is depicted in Revelation 1 in his full glory. His eyes, it says, is like blazing fire. I think if you saw flames coming out of my eyes, you’d be running toward the door. It’s straight out of a horror movie.
While Jesus lived among us in the first century, the Son of God took on human flesh. Meaning, he veiled himself. And the disciples saw glimpses of his glory like when he walked on water or he calmed the storm. One day, we will see him face to face and we won’t see a gentle carpenter with a lamb around his neck. When we see the glorified Jesus, fully unveiled, without the robe of human flesh to cover him, I bet instead of running toward him, we’ll have our faces down and we’ll be trembling before him.
It’s like the difference between my mom and dad. My mom is a gentle woman who accepts me as I am. And I remember one day, I was really mad and I can’t even recall what happened, or what my mom did, but I let my mom have it. I started yelling at her and even cursing and I was completely out of line. It was shameful.
And my mom just kind of listened and took it in, poor mom. And she just said, one thing that struck some fear in my heart, wait until your dad gets home.
And I was all tough, yeah, whatever, I don’t care, let him come. But inside, I was trembling. And as soon as my dad came home, my entire demeanor changed. I definitely wasn’t cursing anymore. Because I feared him.
God is not a senile grandfather. He doesn’t pretend to not see our sins and everything we do is fine with him. Sure, he accepts us tenderly like a mother. But there is also the discipline and sternness of a father that causes us to be afraid and that fear drives us to change.
Have you ever seen Rembrandt’s “Prodigal Son” painting. If not, you’ve got to take a look at it. It’s a picture of the Father, or God, embracing his prodigal son, which represents all of us. If you look closely at that painting, you will notice that the hands are different. One hand is the tender, soft, petite hand of a mother. The other hand is a more masculine hand of a father.
The tenderness of a mother before whom we are comfortable and accepted and the sternness of a father before whom we better get our act together. God is merciful, he accepts us as we are. But at the time, He is a holy God and his holiness causes us to tremble in fear.
The same principle applies to the doctrine of grace. Grace is not just a blanket you use to comfort a struggling believer from the biting cold of their sins. That’s just one side.
Grace also causes us to remember the holiness of God.
Did you ever wonder about the second stanza of the hymn, Amazing Grace.
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Grace teaches our hearts to fear because we know that each time we sin, a holy God should be pouring out his wrath on us. So the grace we receive teaches us to fear so that we don’t sin flippantly and say, it’s okay, I have grace. This is cheap grace, which is not grace anymore.